With every seat in the Kathryn Mohrman Theatre filled, Dr. Reena N. Goldthree of Princeton University discussed past and present struggles of black freedom on Martin Luther King Jr Day. Observing the packed room, Goldthree commented, “I was told this was an engaged campus, and I believe it now.”
She began her talk by explaining how in the face of growing anti-intellectualism in America, university activism matters now more than ever. With the government in its longest shutdown in history in addition to an increase in hate crimes for the third year in a row, there is no room left for complacency. She emphasized how a moral crisis didn’t simply erupt the day that President Donald Trump was elected, rather, America was built on violence.
Looking closely at King, Dr. Goldthree explained how he had been “Santa-Clausified” and is now used by both those who oppose justice and those who support it. The national holiday associated with him came about in 1983, but not necessarily as a way to honor the civil rights leader. At that time, the Ronald Reagan administration was receiving backlash over dismantling affirmative action and other civil rights causes.
King became a tool for politicians to “prove” their anti-racism, regardless of whether they truly believed in his causes. Even during King’s life, over half the American population opposed his work. Goldthree asserted that the white moderates who simply agree with the black freedom cause, and not the means, are the most dangerous to society. King expressed this same idea in his “Letter From the Birmingham Jail” when he said, “[The white moderate] believes he can set a timetable for another man’s freedom.”
Goldthree further emphasized the danger of “Santa-Clausification” when she explained how it creates an “inaccurate understanding of social change.” Political movements are not solely led by eloquent orators or powerful zealots, but by those who are physically on the ground, those carrying out the activism. She then gave the example of how revolutionary concepts such as identity politics and intersectionality came from black women, like Kimberly Crenshaw, who are often not found in the spotlight.
“Dr. Goldthree’s lecture was extremely impactful and it made me hopeful of the steps towards inclusivity and anti-racism that CC is taking,” said Brenna Geiger ’19.
A key point in Dr. Goldthree’s lecture was how the link between racial injustice and class oppression is often overlooked. True justice is not possible without economic reordering.
“The economic crisis has hit the black and latinx communities the hardest,” sad Goldthree.
Without the opportunity for economic mobility, the goal of equality becomes almost impossible. The system itself perpetuates injustice.
Being born six minutes from the origin of the Ferguson riots, Goldthree emphasized how the black struggle is not even close to being over. With “a riot being the language of the unheard,” these social movements provide meaningful examples of how to imagine race being dealt differently than the current racial status quo.
As her lecture came to a close, the room erupted into a standing ovation. Calming the room down, Dr. Goldthree reminded us all to struggle in solidarity and to make this campus be a place in which justice and anti-racism are central.